There may be other answers to that eternal, burning question, but the only one of which I am aware is the strange and intriguing keyboard (hooked to an Amnet laptop on loan from Roblimo) on which I type ths review. It's called the Flexboard, available in the U.S. from Man & Machine. And yes, it works fine with Linux -- in this case, with a semi-functional installation of Corel Linux 2.4. Nothing unusual about it, in fact, except that it's banana yellow, has no moving parts, can be rolled to the approximate dimensions of a stromboli, smells a bit like a paint store, and can droop becomingly around a user's naked thighs. Other than that, just your run-of-the-mill PS/2 keyboard.
With a design straight out of '70s Sweden, or perhaps the personal computer division of Fisher-Price (but actually manufactured in Germany by a company called Kota Technologies, this is not a keyboard you're likely to to find around the office. First of all, most offices do not need keyboards that cost as much as a passable 15" monitor -- and at $129 for the standard Home / Office version (the one I'm bumping away at), it's pretty close. (In case you're wondering, it is available in other colors, including neutral grey.)
Your $129, though, gets you an interesting, very specialized piece of equipment. This keyboard can withstand treatment that standard mechanical ones cannot, to put it lightly. (Turns on spigot -- not too hot, but not too cold.)
Add $100 for the even tougher "Industrial" version, and you can happily drench your keyboard in oil and many chemicals; the Industrial version also features a 2-year warranty vs. the standard edition's single year, and will withstand a wider range of storage and operating temperatures. For factories, laboratories, workshops and such it seems like just the ticket. Even the standard one, though, shrugs off both water and hot chocolate at point-blank range just fine. Rinse off, towel dry -- no need to wring.
The sensors which enable the keys are hidden beneath flat-topped projections in the one-molded-piece-of-rubber which is the keyboard. The letters, numbers and functon keys are perfectly round, while space bar, enter, and other special characters are elongated ovals. (Lower drain plug.)
The keys are adequately labeled; the printing is a little lighter than I would expect -- grey-brown rather than black -- but in practical use provides plenty of contrast. (Adjusts water.) Not that I'm giving it any practical use right now.
How well does it work? In short, a) better than I expected and, b) not bad. It takes some getting used to the feel of a rubber keyboard (and adjusting your typing style to its response), but it's not the awful, toothgrinding experience of "typing" on the flat-membrane surface of the old family Sinclair Z-80; it's really possible to type at a decent clip on this thing. Slower than my regular keyboard, but OK. Even combination keystrokes (shift-plus, alt-plus) work fine. However, if you're used to clacking along on a mechanical keyboard, especially if you crave the audio and tactile feedback of an IBM desk-dominator, the feel of this one will come as a surprise, though not necessarily a rude one.
The loudest you can make this keyboard roar, in fact, is closer to a Sunday School whisper than to, say, normal conversation. Unless you really want to swing your fingers, it is utterly silent. (A little more Hot, please.) A gentle squeezing motion is all it takes to actuate the keys. Even after acclimating myself to it for a few days, though, I find that a few keys (F, J, and a few others in the bottom row) simply do not work as well as others. Disconcertingly, the key which causes me the most trouble is the spacebar. I am generally a right-thumb spacebar thumper; I find that by switching to my left thumb my success is much improved. Overall, the engineers did an admirable job balancing sensitivity with oversensivity. I end up hitting backspace more than I'd like, but less than I feared I would have to.
So who would want one of these? With not a sharp angle or hard surface to be found, I can think of various institutions which might order it for those characteristics alone, and of which I know only by thorough reading. (Ouch! Too hot!) Any environment that could be wetter or messier than you'd subject an ordinary keyboard to (anyone who's gotten cat hair or soda in their keyboard will know what I mean) might be well-served with the Flexboard. Office klutzes everywhere -- we know who we are -- still would have to go through quite a few $30 keyboards from the local office supply before one of these makes sense for that reason alone.
It does seem like this would be a great keyboard for children, since not only are there no pieces to break off and chew on or swallow, but more importantly it cannot be used as a bludgeon against other children. And for anyone in a situtation which truly requires a spillproof, particle-proof keyboard, the generous cable allows you to better protect the PC itself, placing it in a cabinet, say, or otherwise out of your particular "splash zone." For situations where quiet is more important than input speed, this board would shine.
Having typed this review from the comfort of my bathtub, I can also attest to the Flexboard's resistance to Freeman Botanicals Apple Nectar shampoo as well as Dove moisturizing soap. Better close before I find out what it can't shrug off and get myself into even more hot water.
Many thanks to Clifton Broumand of Man&Machine for graciously providing this review unit.